DaVita renal dietitian Mary L. from Kansas shares her kidney-friendly recipes for two sweet treats: Cranberry Cream Salad and Snickerdoodles. Cranberry Cream Salad is a cinch to make from raspberry gelatin, whole berry cranberry sauce, celery and sour cream. Snickerdoodles are a classic sugar cookie favorite that are rolled in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
You can also make tasty biscuits and tortillas that are kidney-friendly thanks to a phosphorus-free baking powder recipe previously shared by Mary along with her Easy Phosphorus-Free Drop Biscuits and Lower-Phosphorus Tortillas recipes that are healthy for you and yummy enough to please everyone at your table.
Mary notes that because commercial baking powder has a phosphorus-based chemical ingredient, favorites such as biscuits, pancakes, waffles and tortillas are often limited or omitted from kidney patients’ diets. However, by making your own phosphorus-free baking powder, you can avoid chemicals and preservatives that have phosphorus, so you can eat the foods you like in moderation.
When asked how she first got interested in being a dietitian, Mary says it all started with a suggestion from someone else. “I was studying food science when my college advisor said that I was such a people person, she didn’t see me loving just the lab setting,” Mary recalls. After speaking with a dietitian about the field, Mary decided to pursue her career as a renal dietitian.
A native of Walnut Creek, California, and a graduate of the University of California at Davis, Mary moved to Rochester, Minnesota, to complete an internship at St. Mary’s Hospital. She went on to work as “vacation relief” in a large dialysis and transplant program at the University of Minnesota Hospitals.
When an opening arose at a hemodialysis and peritoneal (PD) clinic, Mary accepted the position, which she shared with another renal dietitian. Twenty-two years later, Mary now resides in Kansas, works for DaVita and is still enjoying her work.
“In my work as a renal dietitian, I can combine science, people and creativity,” Mary explains. “The most challenging aspects of my job have been relearning my high school Spanish and teaching and working with dialysis patients from a variety of cultures. About one-third of our kidney patients are Spanish-speaking and a number of our patients do not read.”
Despite the communication challenges, Mary finds satisfaction in her work. “Probably the most rewarding aspect of my job is knowing dialysis patients have the opportunity to enjoy grandchildren. So far, we have had four infants born to patients on dialysis in our center, and several patients have had kidney transplants. It is very affirming of the value of life.”
Mary believes that anyone in the role of renal dietitian has the opportunity to impact lives. She strives to truly listen to her dialysis patients, to get to know them and to understand their ups and downs, especially as they relate to food and appetite. “I see my role as a dialysis patient advocate, and I look for ways to make life more enjoyable for them, rather than more restricted,” Mary says. “I really enjoy patients’ resourcefulness — they come up with good ideas and approaches to their kidney diet challenges. I also am impressed with my patients’ commitment to life.”
This compassionate renal dietitian serves as an advocate for her kidney patients and as a coach who guides them to being their own best advocates. “I don’t take ‘I don’t know’ as an answer,” Mary declares. Because she cannot be with her dialysis patients all the time, she encourages them to become their own researchers, learning how to read food labels and make better choices for the kidney diet.
“I think the single most important thing dialysis patients can do is be an advocate for themselves — to stay curious, to keep learning,” Mary asserts. Having a supportive coach like Mary makes it easier for kidney patients to always be discovering something new.
“Patients, especially the non-English speakers, really seem to like visual teaching, so I recently came by their dialysis chairs with fresh strawberries to show them how many really are in a cup (about 10 medium strawberries is a cup). I also showed them what a cup of watermelon looks like. I try to follow up with a picture and simple handout to reinforce the visual teaching,” Mary explains.
Renal disease is serious business, but that doesn’t mean that Mary hasn’t shared some lighter moments with her kidney patients. “I laugh about the day I went to see a kidney transplant patient (post transplant) to offer congratulations, and I noticed that something was hidden under his covers. I teased him and asked if by chance he was hiding something. He laughed and lifted the covers to reveal a chocolate milkshake and ham and beans that his family had brought him. He said he just couldn’t show that food to a renal dietitian. We did have a good laugh,” Mary remembers. “He is still doing really well.”
Having been with DaVita for 11 years, Mary has come to appreciate the support the company gives. “DaVita demonstrates commitment to their teammates, offering continuing education, regional networking meetings and recognition in the form of bonuses, special awards — even lunch and beverage treats. That’s a big change from my previous experience working for a private clinic,” Mary says.
Enjoy a big change in your diet by using Mary’s recipe for Homemade Phosphorus-Free Baking Powder the next time you’re longing for pancakes or waffles. If you feel like baking a batch of biscuits, try Mary’s Easy Phosphorus-Free Drop Biscuits. Or if you’re craving Mexican food, make her Lower-Phosphorus Tortillas. Mary makes it easier for you to indulge in foods you enjoy without the worry of too much phosphorus. And when you’re looking for something sweet, turn to Mary’s kidney-friendly recipes for Cranberry Cream Salad and Snickerdoodles.